green your office

Is Work Making you Sick?

Feeling tired, moody or like you’re getting the flu? Poor indoor air quality in your office may actually be making you physically ill. As energy costs soar and concern for the environment grows, property owners are beginning to see the environmental and financial rewards that come from reducing their energy consumption. One of the basic tenants of reducing energy costs is improved insulation. But this push to adequately insulate has resulted in buildings so airtight that indoor air quality is compromised. In many older buildings (especially those insulated after the energy crisis in the ’70s) the indoor air quality can be as much as two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, even in the city.

Poor indoor air quality is caused not only by a lack of adequate air circulation, but also by the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can be released from PVC, building materials, finishes, paints, fire retardants etc. Chemical pollutants (like cleaning products) and biological pollutants (bacteria, mould spores, dust mites, pollen and viruses) are also detrimental to indoor air quality.

Poor indoor air quality can make you sick at work or at home. Known as sick building syndrome (SBS), illnesses that result from poor indoor air quality are difficult to diagnose. The main reason for this is that there are a large range of associated symptoms which affect people differently. Symptoms can include headaches, congestion, skin and eye irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing, asthma, oedema, lethargy and chest pains. Symptoms are exacerbated when in the building, but many continue even when people have left. Some symptoms are temporary while others can lead to long term, permanent conditions.

Sick building syndrome is not confined to older buildings and it is estimated that up to 30% of new buildings are also afflicted with poor indoor air quality. Get the indoor air quality of your buildings tested by a professional. If your building is in need of a breath of fresh air, there are ways to improve the situation. Although air filtration systems help, there is no substitute for good ventilation. Revamp your HVAC system and ensure that there is adequate outdoor ventilation. Remove VOC producing building materials and opt for natural, environmentally friendly alternatives.

If mould spores are detected, employ the services of a professional mould removal company. Mould is insidious and can be embedded in walls, grow in ducting and entrench itself in your HVAC filters. The very act of cleaning it can release millions of spores which will only seed more colonies. The spores themselves can cause many of the worst SBS symptoms.

Consider using pot plants to filter your indoor air. They have the added benefit of reducing stress. Plants are able to process VOCs and can filter up to 60% of airborne pollutants while adding aesthetic appeal to your building. Have your indoor air tested to ensure that your buildings are healthy.

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Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives in a tiny town with a fat cat and a very bad dog.

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6 thoughts on “Is Work Making you Sick?

  1. Shaun

    What a fascinating read, I think our office is experiencing similar symptoms to what you described. Thanks for the interesting article

    1. Nikki Fotheringham Post author

      Thanks Shaun! The symptoms most often experienced are lethargy and a lack of energy or ability to concentrate. Irritability also factors in. If you or your work mates are experiencing these, check the AC filters. Thanks again for the support – much appreciated

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